- Buster Olney, Senior Writer, ESPN The Magazine
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ABERDEEN, S.D. -- Don Meyer refers to his left leg -- the leg that doctors amputated below the left knee in September 2008 -- as "Little Buddy." And since Northern State University concluded its basketball season in March, Little Buddy has had it rough.
Meyer, who finished the season with 910 career wins (the most in NCAA history for men's basketball), had more extensive surgery on the stump of his left leg on April 2, to help prepare him for the expected transition to a prosthetic leg in the next couple of months. A quarter inch of bone was shaved off, and the wound was closed. He is hoping to have the prosthetic leg in place before his summer basketball camp begins in June.
"I don't want to run marathons," he said, "but I do want to be able to be functional, to be able to reach around a kid's shoulder and talk to him, walk over and show him something. That makes it a lot easier to teach."
As doctors worked to save his life in the hours after a devastating car accident on Sept. 5, 2008, they discovered carcinoid cancer in Meyer's liver, small intestine and abdomen, a cancer that has been deemed inoperable by some of the doctors and specialists Meyer has seen. But as he went about the business of coaching Northern State through the 2008-09 season from a wheelchair, Meyer was largely untouched by the symptoms of the cancer.
"We hear different things from different people about the cancer," he said. "I got an e-mail from someone who said, 'Don't believe that stuff about carcinoid cancer being slow-moving -- it's rapid.'"
Meyer laughed. "So I made several copies of that just to give myself a lift when I read it," he said. "It may be inoperable, it could be operated on, it may have spread too much for them to operate. You pray about it. You try to do the right things. Maybe it'll sit there for a long time, maybe it won't I just want to coach as long as I can coach."
His voice is much stronger now, months removed from the accident that broke all of his ribs and tore the diaphragm away from his rib cage.
"I really learned during this thing how much I love teaching," Meyer said. "I've got to be teaching, or else I'm in trouble. I've got to be active. They say idleness is the devil's workshop, so I've got to keep busy. I've got to keep teaching."
Meyer's three children said, in the aftermath of his accident, that they couldn't imagine a time when their father would walk away from coaching. Meyer said in an interview in March that he had a brief conversation with his wife, Carmen, about whether she might like to live in Phoenix, whether it might be good for the 64-year-old coach to retire. Carmen immediately waved it off, saying no, Don Meyer is a coach and he will continue to coach.
On Friday -- just a week after his most recent surgery -- Meyer and assistant coach Randy Baruth drove 17 hours from Aberdeen to Albuquerque, N.M., on a recruiting trip, returning Sunday.
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.
Cancer and a car crash couldn't stop him from breaking Bobby Knight's career record for wins, so what's a little more surgery to Northern State's Don Meyer? He's still coaching and teaching.